Being gluten-free was trendy, but now studies say that the "fad" is coming to an end. What does this mean for celiac patients?
It is essential that those with celiac disease do not eat any gluten – even accidentally. But many people think that a gluten-free diet is just a fad and not a medical necessity for those who have celiac disease. These same people discount the implications of even accidental gluten exposure.
During the 1990s, carb-heavy diets were all the trend. Then came the carb-free diets. Dieters began to think that breads were evil. Celiac disease and gluten-intolerance became better known. It became fashionable to think that pieces of bread and gluten caused headaches, blemishes, or even fatigue. Those who followed a gluten-free diet increased three times between 2009 and 2014 although celiac sufferers made up only one to two percent of the population.
Researchers state that celiac disease affects only one to two percent of the population globally. Studies also state that only one in six of those who have celiac disease are diagnosed. Those with celiac disease know the only way they can heal their digestive system is to adhere to a gluten-free diet.
Some people with celiac disease are asymptomatic or have no symptoms, but everyone with celiac disease is at risk for long-term complications and illnesses. Some of these complications include type 1 diabetes, dermatitis herpetiformis, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, neurological conditions like migraines and epilepsy, intestinal cancers, anemia and short statures. For some reason, celiac disease doubles almost every 15 years. Scientists are puzzled on why this happens.
It is a bit puzzling, but why do about 11 percent of American households subscribe to a gluten-free diet? Another 25 percent of Americans believe a gluten-free diet is good for everyone. Do they all buy into the rumors that a gluten-free diet promotes weight loss, gut healing, and more energy?
What Is Happening to the Gluten-Free Trend?
Organizations like, Beyond Celiac, an advocate of gluten-free foods, are helping to make gluten-free products easier to acquire. The gluten-free diet trend has been a boon to those with celiac disease.
But now the trend is now turning the other way. Starbuck’s is discontinuing their gluten-free breakfast sandwiches claiming they may, after all, contain traces of gluten. Is this just an excuse to get rid of a low-profit product?
Americans realize that gluten is not bad for everyone. It is a fact that those with celiac disease should not eat gluten; it makes them sick. But, is gluten bad for everyone?
"There is no doubt gluten intolerance is real—Alessio Fasano’s work at Harvard has made that clear. It is called non-celiac gluten intolerance. However, not everyone who thinks they are gluten intolerant is, and it can be a function of gut health, microbiome, and other factors rather than inherent sensitivity to the gluten itself," said Dr. Aviva Romm, women's health expert and New York Times best-selling author.
Studies have reported that eating gluten-free can do wrong if you eat too many gluten-free products. Dr. Romm says that overly consuming gluten-free products can lead to weight gain and different types of intolerance, if you're on the diet but do not have celiac disease.
To make gluten-free foods tasty and appealing, a gluten-free diet is often full of processed and sugary foods. Gluten-free foods are also made from high glycemic ingredients like potato starch or brown rice flour.
The gluten-free trend is moving downward since more people realize that they are not gluten sensitive and gluten-free does not contribute to weight loss. Because of these realizations, trends report that sales of gluten-free foods are slowing down big time. In 2015, sales were $400 million but these sales will only be $2 billion by 2020.
So, why is gluten-free trending downward? It might be because those who believe in gluten-free for weight management have realized that it is difficult to maintain a strict gluten-free diet. Gluten-free foods are expensive, and consumers no longer purchase gluten-free products which lead to retailers downgrading their gluten-free stocks.
Celiac disease affects a very small percent of the population, and those low percentages cannot sustain aisles of gluten-free choice. Retailers are experiencing lower profits for foods that require regulation, oversight, and expensive ingredients for the easier to maintain, full-of-gluten products. Those with celiac disease are quickly finding that products that made meals pleasant for them are disappearing.
What’s the New Trend?
Those who have celiac disease and gluten sensitivity found that the gluten-free fad was good. The gluten-free trend meant there are many gluten-free options found in grocery stores and restaurants. Gluten-free food became more accessible as more gluten-free foods were marketed.
Years ago gluten-free foods had an off-taste because of commonly used bean flours. There were no restaurants who even knew what gluten-free was and did not subscribe to foods that had no gluten. Eating out socially for celiac patients was impossible, and you were often labeled as too picky, too different, or too whiny.
Still today many people believe that a gluten-free diet is a fad and not a medical necessity, the implication of accidental gluten exposure is discounted. They “laugh” it off. If you have celiac disease, you may have found that when you ask for gluten-free food at a restaurant, the server looks at you in puzzlement. They don’t understand that a gluten-free diet is essential for those who have celiac disease and your question is legitimate.
Comments about gluten-free diets have become a subject of jokes. When Kim Kardashian took to a gluten-free diet to lose her weight, talk show hosts had a heyday with gluten-free foods. They didn’t think about the thousands of celiac disease patients who would be hurt by their comments.
The new trend is not gluten-free, but bread is back. Natural food enthusiasts like Richard Bourdon and Michael Pollan state that hours of fermenting breaks down the gluten and grains in bread. Fermenting makes it easier for people to digest and process bread.
Elizabeth Pruitt, co-owner of Tartine, uses ancient cooking techniques and heirloom grains in her recipe. Pruitt has severe gluten intolerance and finds that loafs made with sprouted grains are easy to digest.
Will new ways of processing bread be the trend of the future? Maybe, but this does not solve the problems of digestive issues in those with celiac disease. They are not able to eat gluten proteins that give bread their elasticity, and no amount of fermenting will get rid of gluten proteins.
What Can be Done?
Those with celiac disease and gluten-intolerances must make their voices heard. Yes, they are only one percent of the population, but even a small percentage can be loud. Write letters to gluten-free manufacturers and praise them for their efforts. Find a clinical trial that is helping to find a cure for celiac disease. Donate to advocacy groups who support gluten-free products. Go to restaurants that know diets full of glutens can be dangerous to some people.
Keep up these efforts during all the months of the year, not just during Celiac Awareness Month. Try to educate your friends, family, favorite market and restaurant on celiac disease. Education and awareness is the best weapon you have to change the trend back to gluten-free.